Stave Falls Hydro-Electric Installation National Historic Site of Canada
Mission, British Columbia
© Agence Parcs Canada / Parks Canada Agency, 2002.
Stave Falls, Mission, British Columbia
Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
1909 to 1912
1895 to 1915
Event, Person, Organization:
British Columbia Electric Railway Company
Stave Falls Hydro-Electric Installation
Research Report Number:
2003-19,19A,19B 2002-64,64A, OB2003-20
Existing plaque: Stave Falls, British Columbia
The powerhouse, dams and associated technologies here at Stave Falls clearly illustrate the key phase, from 1895 to 1915, of hydro-electric development in Canada. During these formative years, technological innovations such as the advent of the disc insulator made it possible to transmit more electricity over longer distances. These advances allowed remote sites like Stave Falls to be developed, enabling the nation to tap into its tremendous waterpower potential. With much of its original equipment still intact, this installation provides a window into a crucial period in the electrification of Canada.
Description of Historic Place
The Stave Falls Hydro-Electric Installation National Historic Site of Canada is nestled in the mountainous Stave River Valley, five kilometres north of the Fraser River in the Dewdney-Alouette Regional District of British Columbia. The property’s large watershed and 30-metre drop can produce 300 megawatts of the Lower Mainland’s power. The installation is composed of three dams, the intake dam, the main dam and the blind slough dam, a powerhouse, switchyard, and associated equipment. Dominating the site, the powerhouse below the dams that created Stave Lake, is a steel reinforced concrete building, housing a museum and interpretive centre dedicated to the history of the hydro-electricity in British Columbia. The official recognition refers to the site and its associated structures.
Stave Falls Hydro-Electric Installation was designated a national historic site of Canada because: it is an excellent representation of the core period of hydro-electric technological development among the approximately 160 extant stations built between 1900-1920 across Canada.
Completed in 1912 and expanded in the 1920s, the Stave Falls Hydro-Electric Installation is a well-preserved example of a typical hydro-electric plant of the early 20th century. The construction of the first two units and dams at Stave Falls came at the height of Canada’s second phase of hydro-electric development which focused on the introduction of alternating current electrical systems, a technological innovation that allowed power plants to be geographically remote from the end user. Many problems associated with hydro-electricity were solved at this time and hydro-electric installations proliferated in a country rich in waterpower.
Stave Falls was a typical plant of this second phase in terms of its design and technology. The site is notable for its intact and complete inventory of hydro-electric-related infrastructure – namely dams, penstocks, switchyard and powerhouse complete with the original generators, turbines and transformers. The exterior design also provides a good example of the architectural richness typical of powerhouses of this period. The exterior walls were carefully detailed with pilasters that punctuate the structural bays of the building, cornice lines at each of the two roof levels, stepped parapets at each gable end, and concrete sills beneath many windows.
Hydro-electric development and power generation were instrumental in shaping the history and landscape of the Stave Valley and the economic growth of British Columbia. The Stave Falls installation reflects the political and economic climate in which electrical development took place in British Colombia, a period during which the predatory practices of private developers were the governing factors and eventually allowed one company to dominate the market in the early decades of the twentieth century. Consolidation within the industry led to the establishment of the British Columbia Electric Railway Company (BCER), which focused on hydro-electric development and become one of the largest electrical enterprises in the British Empire. Since being decommissioned, the site has operated as a museum.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, July 2003.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of Stave Falls Hydro-Electric Installation include: the prominent location on the bank of the Stave River above Stave Lake; its setting near an island formed by the two branches of the river of which the main branch was developed as a fore bay and intake works, while the other channel, Blind Slough, at a higher level than the bed of the existing river, became the site for a flood discharge dam; its individual components, including the powerhouse, switchyard, main dam, intake dam and blind slough dam, and the spatial relationship between each of these components; the station’s rectangular form and two-storey massing and side gabled roof with stepped parapets at each gable end, its regular and symmetrical fenestration with multi-pane windows often in sets of two, and architectural detailing including pilasters punctuating the structural bays, cornice lines at each of the two roof levels, concrete sills beneath many windows, and segmental arches; the station’s interior configuration, features and finishes including the open space of the generating plant with a mezzanine gallery at one end; its interior millwork including large paneled wooden doors with original hardware elements that facilitated daily work including the offices, catwalks, platforms, staircases, metal handrails, cast iron fire escapes, light fixtures with metal mesh covering, lamp standards on detailed concrete bases; surviving power generating equipment such as turbines, generator units, transformers, heavy steel penstocks; the substructure of the outdoor station consisting of a reinforced concrete slab supported on twelve concrete piers set in the tailrace; landscape elements including mature cedars and deciduous trees that surround the powerhouse.